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NEWS

Pennsylvania senator: Definition lacking in child porn bill

By John L. Micek

An Allentown lawmaker's proposal to close a loophole in the state's child pornography law might end up once again stuck in a committee unless a flaw in its language is fixed, a senior Senate Republican said this week.

The legislation sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Mann, D-Lehigh, would make it illegal for someone to ''intentionally view'' child porn. Current law makes it illegal to ''control'' or ''possess'' it.

But according to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, Mann's proposal doesn't provide an adequate definition of what ''intentionally view'' means. And it doesn't allow for someone who might come across child porn by accident.

That's the problem Greenleaf had with an identical proposal Mann introduced last year. It cleared the House but never escaped Greenleaf's committee.

Mann's most recent version of the bill was approved by the House on Feb. 11 and was again referred to Greenleaf's committee.

''They continue to pass a bill without a clear definition.Â…I was hoping they'd come up with language,'' Greenleaf said.

Mann said she's willing to work with Greenleaf to come up with language that addresses his concerns. But she said ''intentionally viewing'' child porn seems pretty clear to her.

''Intentional viewing encompasses anything intentional,'' she said. ''I appreciate his willingness to clearly communicate his concerns.''

Mann's proposal may put Pennsylvania ahead of the curve when it comes to other states. Federal law was just changed last year to make it illegal to knowingly access child porn with an intent to view it, said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Va.

''Most states have not specifically criminalized knowingly viewing child pornography,'' he said. ''We think it's great. The results will enhance prosecutions.''

The loophole in the state law came to light after a 2006 state Superior Court decision, in which a three-judge panel ruled that the act of viewing child porn on the Internet, without intentionally saving or downloading any of the images, was not against the law.

The decision stemmed from a Delaware County case in which a man admitted to viewing child porn. But prosecutors couldn't prove Anthony Diodoro had intentionally downloaded any of the images he'd seen. The images were, however, automatically stored in the ''cache'' of his Web browser.

The Superior Court voted 7-2 to reverse the decision of the three-judge panel, ruling Diodoro broke the law because the act of visiting the offending sites and opening the images met the legal definition of controlling and possessing child porn.

The state Supreme Court heard arguments in the case last May and has yet to issue a decision.

Under current law, a first offense for having child porn is a third-degree felony punishable by 31/2 to five years in prison and a maximum $15,000 fine. Subsequent offenses are a second-degree felony, punishable with a five- to 10-year sentence and up to $25,000 in fines.

The offense also requires a mandatory 10-year registration in the state's Megan's Law database, said Kevin Harley, a spokesman for state Attorney General Tom Corbett.

Mann's bill provides exceptions for material that is brought into the state for ''a bona fide scientific, governmental or judicial purpose.''

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